Chapter 17. Exit
If trouble were as easy to get out of as into - life would be one sweet song.
A gray silence fell over the ship.
Kaliinin buried her face in her hands and then, after a long moment, broke the silence by whispering, "Are you sure, Arkady?"
And Dezhnev, blinking hard to hold back tears, said, "Am I sure? The man has been on the brink of death for weeks. The cellular flow is slowing, the temperature is falling, and the Grotto, which has him wired with every instrument ever invented, says he is dead. What is there to be but sure?"
Boranova sighed. "Poor Shapirov. He deserved a better death."
Konev said, "He might have held out another hour."
Boranova said with a frown, "He did not pick and choose, Yuri."
Morrison felt chilled. Until now he had been conscious of some surrounding red corpuscles, of a specific speck of intercellular region, of the interior of a neuron. His environment had been circumscribed to the immediate.
Now he looked out of the ship, through its transparent plastic walls, at what appeared to him, for the first time, to be thickness upon thickness of matter. On their present scale, with the ship the size of a glucose molecule and himself not much more than the size of an atom, the body of Shapirov was larger than the planet Earth.
Here he was, then, buried in a planetary object of dead organic matter. He felt impatience over the pause for mourning. Time for that later, but meanwhile - He said in a voice that was perhaps a little louder than it ought to have been, "How do we get out?"
Boranova looked at him in surprise, eyes widening. (Morrison was certain that in her grief for Shapirov the thought of leaving had been momentarily buried.)
She cleared her throat and made a visible effort to be her usual businesslike self. She said, "We must deminiaturize to some extent, to begin with."
Morrison said, "Why only to begin with? Why not deminiaturize all the way to normality right now?" Then, as though to forestall the inevitable objection, "We will inflict damage on Shapirov's body, but it is a dead body and we are still alive. Our needs come first."
Kaliinin looked at Morrison reproachfully. "Even a dead body deserves respect, Albert, especially the dead body of a great scientist like Academician Pyotr Shapirov."
"Yes, but surely not to the entent of risking five lives." Morrison's impatience was growing. Shapirov was only someone he had known by distant reputation and peripherally - to Morrison he was not the demigod he seemed to be to the others.
Dezhnev said, "Aside from the question of respect, we are enclosed by Shapirov's cranium. If we expand to fill that cranium and then try to crumble the cranium by the effect of our miniaturization field, we will lose too much energy and deminiaturize explosively. We must first find our way out of the cranium."
Boranova said, "Albert is right. Let's begin. I will deminiaturize to cell size. Arkady, have the people in the Grotto determine our exact position. Yuri, make sure you locate that position accurately on your cerebrograph."
Morrison stared out the hull at the distant cell membrane - a brighter and more continuous sparkle, one that was visible through the occasional flicker of light from the intervening molecules.
The first indication of deminiaturization was the fact that the molecules - subsided. (It was the only word Morrison could think of to describe what happened.)
It was as though the little curved swellings that filled the space around them - and which Morrison's brain constructed out of twinklings rather than saw directly - shrank. It was for all the world as though they were balloons with the air being let out of them until the surroundings seemed relatively smooth.
But even as the liquid around them grew smooth, the large macromolecules in the distance - the proteins, the nucleic acids, the still larger cellular structures - also shrank and, in doing so, grew more distinct. The sparks of light they reflected were more closely spaced.
The cell membrane itself seemed to be approaching and it, too, could be seen more clearly. It came closer still and yet closer. The ship was, after all, in a narrow dendrite that projected from the cell body itself and if the ship was going to enlarge to the size of a cell, it would have to grow much larger than this mere projection.
It was clear that the membrane was going to collide with the ship and Morrison automatically clenched his teeth and steeled himself for the shock of impact.
There was none. The membrane came closer and closer and then simply separated and was not there. It was too thin a structure and too lightly bound to withstand the consequences of being forced into a miniaturization field. Though the ship was derniniaturizing to an extent, it was still far, far smaller than the normal world around it and the molecules of the membrane, on entering the field and shrinking, lost contact with each other so that the integrity of the whole vanished.
Morrison watched everything after that with fascination. The surroundings seemed chaotic until, as objects continued to shrink, he began to recognize the intercellular jungle of collagen that they had encountered before entering the neuron. That jungle continued to shrink, in its turn, until the collagen trunks and cables became nothing more than twine.
Boranova said, "And that is all. We will want to be able to fit within a small vein."
Dezhnev grunted. "That is all under any circumstances. Our remaining energy supply is not great."
Boranova said, "It will last until we find our way out of the cranium, surely."
Dezhnev said, "We can hope so. However, you're only the captain of the ship, Natasha; you are not the captain of the laws of thermodynamics."
Boranova shook her head as though in reproof and said, "Arkady, have them determine our position - and don't lecture me."
Konev said, "I'm certain, Natalya, that it is not terribly important to determine our position. It cannot be measurably different from what it was when we left the capillary. All our wanderings since have merely taken us to a nearby neuron and from that to a neighboring neuron. The difference in position on even an ordinary microscopic scale is scarcely measurable."
And then, after a wait of several minutes, the position came through and Konev said, "As I told you."
Morrison said, "What's the good of the position, Yuri? We don't know which way we're headed and we can only go in whatever direction that might be. Now that communications are restored, we can't steer."
Konev said, "Well, then, since there is only one way in which we can head, we will head in that direction. I'm sure that Arkady's father had a saying concerning that."
Dezhnev said at once, "He used to say: 'When only one course of action is possible, there is no difficulty in deciding what to do.'"
"You see?" said Konev. "And we will find that whatever direction we go in, we will find a way out. Move ahead, Arkady."
The ship moved forward, ploughing through the now fragile threads of collagen, splashing through a neuron, and cutting across a thin axon. (It was hard to believe they were recently inside one of those axons and that it had seemed like a highway a hundred kilometers across.)
Morrison said dryly, "Suppose that Shapirov was still alive when it became necessary for us to leave his body. What would we have done?"
"What do you mean?" said Boranova.
"I mean, what alternative is there to this? Would we not have had to determine our position? And to do that, would we not have had to establish communications? And once that was done, would we not have been able to move in only one direction - forward? Would we not have had to deminiaturize in order not to have to travel the equivalent of tens of thousands of kilometers, but merely the equivalent of a few kilometers? In short, in order to get out, would we not have had to push our way through the living neurons of a living Shapirov, as we are now pushing our way through dying and dead ones?"
Boranova said, "Well - yes."
"Where, then, is the respect for a living body? After all, we actually hesitated to violate the integrity of a dead one."
"You must understand, Albert, that this is an emergency operation with an inadequate ship. We have no choice. And, in any case, it is not like your suggestion that we deminiaturize completely in the brain, smashing the cranium and leaving Shapirov headless. Our present course, even if Shapirov was alive, would destroy a dozen neurons - or possibly a hundred - and that would not have been likely to make Shapirov's condition appreciably worse. Brain neurons are continually dying throughout life - like red corpuscles."
"Not quite," said Morrison grimly. "Red corpuscles are continually replaced. Neurons never are."
Konev interrupted, his voice rather loud, as though he were impatiently overriding the idle talk of others. "Arkady, stop. We need another position determination."
There was at once a dead silence within the ship, one that continued - as though any speech might interfere with the measurements being made in the Grotto or might hamper the concentration of those making the measurement.
Finally Dezhnev whispered the measurements to Konev, who said, "Confirm them, Arkady. Make sure you have them right."
Morrison unclasped himself. He was still virtually without mass, but there was distinctly more of it than there had been when they were maneuvering within the cell. He pulled himself cautiously upward, so that he could see the cerebrograph over Konev's shoulder.
There were two red spots on it, with a thin red line connecting them. The map displayed on the screen condensed a bit, the two dots shrinking toward each other, and then it expanded again in a different orientation.
Konev's fingers worked busily over the computer keys and the map grew double and uninterpretable. Morrison knew, however, that Konev could view it through a device that would render it stereoscopic, displaying a third dimension.
Konev laid down that device and said, "Natalya, this time chance is on our side. Wherever we are and in whatever direction we were traveling, we'd be bound to encounter a small vein sooner or later. In this case, it is sooner. We are not far away and we will strike it in such a way that we will be able to enter."
Morrison heaved an internal sigh of relief, but could not help saying, "And what would you have done if chance had dictated a vein very far away?"
Konev said coolly, "Then I would have had Dezhnev break communications again and steer to a closer one."
Dezhnev, however, turned to stare at Morrison, made a grimace of disagreement, and mouthed the words, "Not enough energy."
"Move forward, Arkady," said Boranova peremptorily, "and get to the vein."
After a few minutes, Dezhnev said, "Yuri's map is right, which I wouldn't have bet on with any enthusiasm. That's it ahead."
Morrison found himself staring at a curving wall reaching into the indefinite haze upward and downward and with just a faint suggestion of tiling to it. If it was a vein, it was as yet not very far removed from a capillary. Morrison wondered uneasily if the ship would be able to fit inside it.
Boranova said, "Is there any way, Sophia, that you can give the ship an electric charge pattern that will slip us into the vein?"
Kaliinin looked doubtful and Morrison, holding up his hand, said, "I don't think so, Natalya. The individual cells may not be entirely dead even now, but certainly the organization within them has been destroyed. I don't think any cell in the body can take us in by pinocytosis or by any other means.
"What do I do, then?" said Dezhnev unhappily, "Force my way in?"
"Of course," said Konev. "Lean against the vein wall. A small bit of it will then miniaturize and disintegrate and you can move in. You won't have to use your motors much."
"Ah," said Dezhnev, "the expert speaks. The vein will miniaturize and disintegrate at the expense of our field and that would take energy, too - more energy than forcing our way in would."
"Arkady," said Boranova, "don't be angry. This is not the time for it. Use your motors moderately and take advantage of the first weakening of the vein wall through miniaturization to burst through. Using both techniques will consume less energy than either separately."
"We can hope so," said Dezhnev, "but saying so doesn't make it so. When I was little, my father said to me once: 'Vehemence, my little son, is no guarantee of truth.' He told me this when I swore with great earnestness that I had not broken his pipe. He asked me if I understood the statement. I said I didn't and he explained it to me very carefully. Then he walloped me."
"Yes, Arkady," said Boranova, "but move in now."
Konev said, "It's not as though you're going to flood the brain with blood. It wouldn't matter now that Shapirov is dead, but, as it happens, the blood isn't flowing now. Virtually nothing will leak."
"Ah," said Dezhnev, "this raises an interesting point. Ordinarily, once we enter a vein, the blood flow would carry us in a particular direction. Without blood flow, I must use my engines - but in which direction must we go?"
"Once we penetrate at this point," said Konev calmly, "you will turn to the right. So my cerebrograph says."
"But if there is no current to turn me to the right and if I enter at an angle to the left?"
"Arkady, you will enter at an angle to the right. My cerebrograph tells me that, too. Just push in, will you?"
"Go ahead, Arkady," said Boranova. "We have no choice but to rely on Yuri's cerebrograph."
The ship moved forward and, as the prow touched the vein wall, Morrison could feel the slight vibration of the laboring motors. And then the wall simply gave and pulled away in all directions and the ship was inside.
Dezhnev stopped the motors at once. The ship moved in at a rapidly slowing pace, rebounded off the far wall (maintaining contact so briefly as to cause no damage that Morrison could see), and straightened out with the long axis of the ship along the enormous tunnel of the vein. The ship's width was better than half the width of the blood vessel.
"Well," said Dezhnev, "are we pointed in the right direction? If we're not, there's nothing to be done. I can't back up. We fit the vein too tightly for Albert to get out and turn us around and we have an insufficient remaining supply of energy to miniaturize further and make such a turn possible."
"You're pointed in the right direction," said Konev sternly. "Just get moving and you'll find out soon enough. The vessel will get larger as we move."
"Let's hope it does. - And if it does, how far do we have to travel before we can move out of the body?"
"I can't say yet," said Konev. "I have to follow the vein on my cerebrograph, consult with the people in the Grotto, and arrange for the insertion of a hypodermic needle into the vein as close as possible to the position in which we'll be when we emerge from within the cranium."
Dezhnev said, "May I explain that we cannot move on forever. What with miniaturizing and deminiaturizing, with steering at very low efficiency, with wrong capillaries, and with chasing after Albert when he was lost, we have used up much more energy than we had counted on using. We had much more energy than we thought we'd need, but, even so, we've almost used it all."
Boranova said, "Do you mean we're out of energy?"
"Just about. Haven't I been telling you this for quite a while?" said Dezhnev. "Haven't I been warning you we were running low?"
"But how low are we? Are you saying we don't have enough to carry us out of the cranium?"
"Ordinarily, we would have plenty for that, even now. If we were in a living vein, we could count on a blood current sweeping us along. But there is no current. Shapirov is dead and his heart isn't beating. That means I'll have to force my way through the bloodstream with my motors going and the cooler the stream gets, the more viscous it will become, the harder the motors will have to work, and the more rapidly the energy supply will run out."
Konev said, "We have only a few centimeters to go."
Dezhnev said furiously, "Only a few? Less than the width of my palm? Really? At our present size, we've got kilometers to go."
Morrison said, "Should we deminiaturize further, then?"
"We can't." Dezhnev was now speaking very loudly. "We don't have the energy for it. Uncontrolled deminiaturization takes no energy; it releases energy. But controlled deminiaturization - Look, Albert, if you jump out of a high window, you will reach the ground without effort. But if you want to survive the ordeal and if you want to be lowered slowly while you hang on to a rope, that takes a great deal of effort. Understand?"
Morrison muttered, "I understand."
Kaliinin's hand stole to his and squeezed it gently. She said in a low voice, "Don't mind Dezhnev. He grumbles and howls, but he'll get us there."
Boranova said, "Arkady, if vehemence doesn't guarantee truth, as you told us just now, neither does it guarantee a cool head and a solution. Rather, the reverse. So why don't you just push your way along the vein and perhaps the energy will last until we reach the hypodermic."
Dezhnev scowled and said, "It's what I will do, but if you want me to keep a cool head, you must let me get rid of some heat."
The ship began to move and Morrison thought to himself: Every meter we go is a meter closer to the hypodermic needle.
It didn't make much sense as a comforting thought, since to fail to reach the needle by a small distance might be as fatal as to fail by a large distance. Yet it worked to slow the beat of his heart and it gave him a sense of accomplishment as he watched the wall slide rapidly backward.
The red corpuscles and platelets seemed far more numerous now than they had been in the arteries and capillaries on the way in. Then there had been a blood flow and there had been only the relatively few objects in their immediate neighborhood that had moved along the flow with them. Now the various formed bodies were largely motionless and the ship moved past what seemed countless numbers, squeezing them right and left and leaving them behind, bobbing, in their wake.
They even passed an occasional white cell, large and globular and quiescent. Now, though, they were totally unresponsive to the presence of a foreign object speeding by. In one case, the ship simply whipped through a white cell and left it sprawling behind.
Konev said, "We are going in the right direction. The vein is now distinctly wider than it was."
And so it was. Morrison had noticed that without managing to grasp the significance. He had been too intent on simply moving.
He felt a small surge of hope. To have been going in the wrong direction would have been total disaster. The vein would have narrowed and burst, leaving them adrift in gray matter with, perhaps, insufficient fuel to find and reach another vein.
Konev was taking down something that Dezhnev was repeating to him. He nodded and said, "Have them confirm those figures, Arkady. - Good!"
He spent some time with his cerebrograph and then said, "Listen, they know the vein we're in and they will be inserting a hypodermic needle at a specific spot that I have marked off on the cerebrograph. We will reach it in half an hour or a little less. - Can you keep going for half an hour, Arkady?"
"More likely a little less. If the heart was beating -"
"Yes, I know, but it isn't," said Konev. Then he said, "Natalya, may I have whatever records you have concerning what we have sensed of Shapirov's thought processes? I am going to send the raw data - completeout to the Grotto."
Boranova said, "You mean in case we don't make it out."
"That's exactly what I mean. This material is what we went in for and there's no reason to have it perish with us if we can't get out."
"That's a proper attitude, Yuri," said Boranova.
"Provided," said Konev, his voice suddenly taking on a tinge of anger, "the data has any value at all." Briefly, he glared at Morrison.
Konev then bent toward Dezhnev and together the two began electronically transmitting the information they had collected, computer to computer, from tiny to large, from inside a vein to the outside world.
Kaliinin was still holding Morrison's hand, perhaps as much for comfort to herself as to him, Morrison thought.
He said in a low voice, "What happens, Sophia, if we run out of energy before we reach the needle?"
She lifted her eyebrows briefly and said, "We'll just have to remain passively in place. The people in the Grotto will try to reach us wherever we are."
"We won't deminiaturize explosively as soon as the energy is gone, will we?"
"Oh no. Miniaturization is a metastable state. You remember we explained that. We'll stay as we are indefinitely. Eventually - sometime - this chance pseudo-Brownian motion of expanding and contracting will set up spontaneous deminiaturization, but that might not be for - Who knows?"
"That won't do us any good, of course," said Morrison. "We'll die of asphyxiation. Without energy, we won't be able to recycle our air supply."
"I said the people in the Grotto would try to reach us. Our computers will still be working and they can home in on us, cut to the vein and into it, and spot us electronically - or even visually."
"How can they find one cell among fifty trillion?"
Kaliinin patted his hand. "You are in a pessimistic mood, Albert. We're an easily recognizable cell - and a broadcasting one."
"I think I would feel better if we find the hypodermic needle now and they don't have to look for us."
"So would I. I am merely pointing out that running out of energy and not finding the needle is not the ultimate end."
"And if we do find it?"
"Then we are drawn out and the Grotto's own energy sources will be applied to the task of derniniaturizing us."
"Can't they do it now?"
"We're too closely surrounded by masses of unminiaturized material and it would be too difficult to focus the deminiaturizing field with sufficient accuracy. Once we are out and visible to them, the conditions will be entirely different."
At this point, Dezhnev said, "Have we transmitted everything, Yuri?"
"Then it is my duty to tell you that I have only enough energy to continue moving this ship for five minutes. Perhaps less, but certainly not more."
Morrison, Kaliinin's hand still in his, squeezed convulsively and the young woman winced.
Morrison said, "I'm sorry, Sophia."
He released her hand and she rubbed it vigorously.
Boranova said, "Where are we, Yuri? Can we get to the needle?"
"I should say yes," said Konev. "Slow down, Arkady. Conserve what energy you have."
"No, believe me," said Dezhnev. "At the present speed, I am cutting through the blood with comparatively little turbulence, thanks to the streamlining and surface characteristics of the ship. If I slow down, there'll be more turbulence and energy waste."
Konev said, "But we don't want to overshoot the mark."
"We won't. Any time you want me to cut the motors, we begin to slow down at once because of the blood viscosity. As we slow down, the turbulence builds, we slow down faster, and in ten seconds we're motionless. If we had our normal mass and inertia, the rapid pace of slowing would plaster us all up against the front of the ship."
"Stop when I tell you, then."
Morrison had risen and was looking over Konev's shoulder again. The cerebrograph, he judged, must be at enormous expansion, perhaps at maximum. The thin red line that had marked the path of the ship by dead reckoning was now thick and was approaching a small green circle, which, Morrison surmised, must represent the position of the hypodermic needle.
But it was dead reckoning and it could be off a bit. Konev was alternating his gaze between the cerebrograph and the view up ahead of the ship.
"We should have aimed for an artery," Morrison said suddenly. "They're empty after death. We wouldn't have had to waste energy on viscosity and turbulence."
Konev said, "Useless idea. The ship cannot progress through air." He might have gone on, but at this point he stiffened and cried out, "Stop, Arkady! Stop!"
Dezhnev hit a knob hard with the heel of his hand. It moved inward and Morrison felt himself sway gently forward as the ship slowed and stopped almost at once.
Konev pointed. There was a large circle, glowing with an orange light. He said, "They're using fiber optic methods to make sure the tip glows. They said I wouldn't miss it."
"But we have missed it," said Morrison tightly, "We're looking at it, but we're not there. To get into it, we have to turn - and that means that Dezhnev has to unhook communications again."
"No use," said Dezhnev. "I have enough power in my engines to have kept us going another forty-five seconds maybe, but I certainly do not have enough to start us moving from scratch. We are at this moment dead in the water and cannot move again."
"Well, then?" began Morrison with what was almost a wail.
"Well, then," said Konev, "there is another kind of motion that is possible. That hypodermic needle has intelligence at the other end. Arkady, tell them to push it in very slowly."
The orange circle expanded slowly, becoming slightly elliptical.
Morrison said, "It's going to miss us."
Konev made no reply to that, but leaned over toward Arkady to speak directly into the transmitter. The orange ellipse became, for a moment, more markedly elliptical, but this ceased after a bark from Konev. It became nearly circular after that. The needle was close now and was pointing at them.
And then there was sudden motion everywhere. The faint outlines of the red corpuscles and the occasional platelet, moved, and converged toward and through the circle. And the ship was moving, too.
Morrison looked up and around as the orange circle moved past them neatly on all sides, then slipped behind the ship, shrank rapidly, and disappeared.
Konev said with grim satisfaction, "They've sucked us in. From this point on, we sit quietly. They will handle everything."
Now Morrison did his best to wash away thought, to close his mind. Either he would be brought back to the standard world, to normality, to reality, or he would die in a microblink and the rest of the Universe would go on without him - as it would do, in any case, in twenty years, or thirty, or forty.
He shut his eyes firmly and tried to respond to nothing, not even to the beating of his heart. At one point he felt a light touch on his left hand. That would have to be Kaliinin. He withdrew his hand - not suddenly in rejection, but slowly, as though simply to say: "Not now."
At another point, he heard Boranova say, "Tell them, Arkady, to evacuate Section C, to put in strictly long-distance controls. If we go, there is no point in carrying anyone with us."
Morrison wondered if Section C were indeed evacuated. He would evacuate if he were ordered to or even if he were not ordered to, but there might be those lunatics who would be anxious to be on the spot when the first crew to explore a living body returned safely. - So they could tell their grandchildren, he supposed.
What happened to such people, he wondered, if they ended up not having grandchildren - if they died too young to see them - if their children chose never to have children - if the -
Dimly, he was aware that he was deliberately immersing himself in nonsense and trivia. One can't really think of nothing and especially not if one has spent a lifetime devoting one's self to thought, but one can think of something utterly unimportant. There are, after all, so many more possible thoughts that are unimportant rather than important, trivial rather than vital, nonsensical rather than sensible, that -
He might even have fallen asleep. Thinking about it afterward made him feel certain he had. He wouldn't have thought it would be possible to be so cold-blooded, but it wasn't cold blood; it was weanness, relief from tension, the feeling that someone else was making decisions, that he himself might be totally relaxed at last. And perhaps (although he didn't want to admit it), it had all been too much and he had simply passed out.
And again he felt a light touch on his left hand and this time it did not go away. He stirred and opened his eyes on something that looked like ordinary illumination. Too ordinary - it hurt his eyes. He blinked rapidly and they watered.
Kaliinin was looking down at him. "Wake up, Albert!"
He wiped at his eyes, began to make the natural interpretation of his surroundings, and said, "Are we back?"
"We are back. All is well. We are safe and we're waiting for you. You're nearest the door."
Morrison looked back at the open door and started to his feet, rising a few inches and sinking back. "I'm heavy. "
Kaliinin said, "I know. I feel like an elephant myself. Just get up slowly. I'll help you."
"No no, that's all right." He fended her off. The room was crowded. His vision had cleared to the point where he could see the crowd, face upon face, looking toward him, smiling, watching. He did not want them - Soviet citizens, all - to see the sole American helped to his feet by a young Soviet woman.
Slowly, a little drunkenly but by himself, he rose to his feet, stepped sidewise to the door and very carefully let himself down to a small flight of stairs. Half a dozen pairs of arms reached out to help him, utterly disregarding his words: "It's all right. I don't need help."
Then he said sharply, "Wait!"
Before stepping to solid ground, he turned and looked past Kaliinin, who was right behind him.
"What is it, Albert?" she asked.
He said, "I was just taking a last look at the ship because I don't intend ever to see it again - not at a distance, not in films, not in any form of reproduction."
Then he was on normal ground again and the others followed. It was with relief that Morrison saw that every one of them was helped down.
There would then have been some sort of impromptu celebration, but it was Boranova who stepped forward, looking distinctly disheveled and much unlike her usual calm, well-cared-for self - all the more so since she was wearing the thin cotton coverall that did very little to hide the mature lines of her body.
"Fellow workers," she said, "I'm sure there will be appropriate ceremonies at some reasonable time to mark this fantastic voyage of ours, but please, we are in no condition to join you now. We must rest and recover from an arduous time and we beg your indulgence."
They were all led off to wild shouts and frantic waving and only Dezhnev had the presence of mind to take a glass offered to him that contained something that was either water or vodka and Morrison, for one, had no doubt as to which of the alternatives was, in fact, the case. The broad smile on Dezhnev's damp face as he sipped made it certain.
Morrison said to Kaliinin, "How long were we on the ship?"
"I think it was over eleven hours," said Kaliinin.
Morrison shook his head. "It seemed more like eleven years."
"I know," she said, smiling slightly, "but clocks lack imagination."
"One of Dezhnev Senior's aphorisms, Sophia?"
"No. One of my own."
"What I want," said Morrison, "is a chance at the bathroom, and a shower, and fresh clothes, and a good dinner, and a chance to shout and scream, and a good night's sleep. In that order, I think, especially with the bathroom coming first."
"You'll have it all," said Kaliinin, "as will the rest of us."
And they did and the dinner seemed to Morrison to be particularly satisfactory. Throughout their stay on the ship, tension had managed to suppress his appetite, but such things are merely deferred and hunger was gnawing with a vengeance once Morrison felt truly safe, truly comfortable, truly clean, and truly clothed.
The main course at the dinner was a roast goose of enormous size which Dezhnev carved, saying, "Be abstemious, my friends, for as my father used to say: 'Eating too much kills more quickly than eating too little.'"
Having said this, he served himself a much larger helping than he served anyone else.
The one outsider present was a very blond tall man, who was introduced as the military commander of the Grotto, something which could be seen at once, since he was in full uniform with a spate of decorations. The others seemed extraordinarily polite to him and extraordinarily uncomfortable at the same time.
Throughout the meal, Morrison felt the tension returning. The commander looked at him often, with unsmiling gravity, but said nothing to him directly. Because of the commander's presence, he felt uable to ask the important question and then, finally, when he might have raised it after the commander's departure, he suddenly found himself too sleepy. He would not be able to argue it out properly if there were any complications.
And when he finally managed to tumble into bed, his last semiconscious thought was that there would be complications.
Breakfast was late and Morrison found that it was for two. Only Boranova joined him.
He was mildly disappointed, for he had looked forward to the presence of Sophia Kaliinin, but when she failed to appear, he decided not to ask after her. There were other questions he would have to ask.
Boranova looked tired, as though she had not had enough sleep, but she looked happy, too. Or perhaps (Morrison thought) "happy" was too strong a word. Contented, rather.
She said, "I had a good talk with the commander last night and there was a two-way video call with Moscow. Carefully shielded. Comrade Rashchin himself spoke with me and was clearly pleased in the highest degree. He is not a demonstrative man but he told me that he had been in touch with events all yesterday and that, during the interval in which we were not in communication with the outside world, he had been unable to eat or to do anything but pace back and forth. That, perhaps, was an exaggeration. He even said he had wept with joy at hearing that we were all safe and that may be true. Undemonstrative men can be emotional when the dam breaks."
"It sounds good for you, Natalya."
"For the whole project. You understand that, according to the tentative schedule under which we had worked, we were not expected to launch a voyage into a living human body for at least five years. To have done so with a grossly inadequate ship and to have come out of it alive is viewed as a great triumph. Even the bureaucracy in Moscow understood the emergency under which we labored."
"I doubt that we really got what we were after."
"You mean Shapirov's thoughts? That was, of course, Yuri's dream. On the whole, it was fortunate that he talked us all into following that dream. We would never have attempted the voyage otherwise. Nor does the failure of the dream dim our feat. Had we failed to return alive, we can be sure that there would have been much criticism of our folly in attempting the matter. As it is, though, we are the first to have entered a living human body and to have returned alive - a Soviet first that will stand forever in history. There will be no non-Soviet feat of the sort for years and our Soviet leadership is well-aware of that and very satisfied. We are assured of the money we will need for a considerable time, I imagine, provided we can come up with a spectacular feat now and then."
She smiled broadly at this and Morrison nodded and smiled politely with her. He cut away at the ham omelet he had requested and said, "Would it have been diplomatic to emphasize that an American was one of the crew? Was I mentioned at all?"
"Come, Albert, don't think so ill of us. Your feat in turning the ship by hand at the risk of your life was mentioned with emphasis."
"And Shapirov's death? That will not be blamed on us, I hope?"
"The death is understood to have been unavoidable. It is well-known that he was kept alive as long as he was by advanced medical methods only. I doubt that it will be mentioned to any great extent in the records."
"In any case," said Morrison, "the nightmare is over."
"The nightmare? Come, give yourself a month or two and it will seem an exciting episode that you'll be glad you experienced."
"I doubt it."
"You'll see. If you live to witness other such voyages, you'll be delighted to say, 'Ah, but I was on the very first,' and you'll never tire of telling the story to your grandchildren."
That's the opening, thought Morrison. Aloud, he said, "I see you assume that I will see my grandchildren someday. What happens to me once we're finished with breakfast, Natalya?"
"It will be out of the Grotto for you and back to the hotel."
"No no, Natalya. I want more than that. What follows that? I warn you that if the miniaturization project is going to go public and if there's a parade in Red Square, I don't intend to be part of it."
"Parades are out of the question, Albert. We're a long way from going public, although we're closer to it by far than we were the day before yesterday. "
"Let me put it baldly then. I want to go back to the United States. Now."
"As soon as possible, certainly. I imagine there will be pressure from your government."
"I should hope so," said Morrison dryly.
"They would not have been willing to have you back before you had a chance to help us or" - her eyes looked into his rather sternly - "from their point of view, spied on us. But now that you have done your part - and I'm sure they will be aware of that somehow - they will demand you back."
"And you must send me back. You promised that over and over."
"We will keep our promise."
"Nor need you think I have spied on you, I have seen nothing you have not let me see."
"I know that. Yet, when you return to your own country, do you imagine that you will not be questioned exhaustively on what you have seen?"
Morrison shrugged. "That was the consequence you must have accepted when you brought me here."
"True and we won't let it keep us from returning you. It is quite certain you won't be able to tell your people anything they don't already know. They poke their noses into our affairs carefully and skillfully -"
"As your people poke their noses into ours -" said Morrison with some indignation.
"Undoubtedly," said Boranova with a negligent wave of her hand. "Of course, you will be able to tell them of our success, but we don't really object to their knowing. To this day, Americans insist on believing that Soviet science and technology is second-class. It will do us good to teach them a lesson in this. One thing, though -"
"Ah," said Morrison.
"Not a large thing, but a lie. You must not say we brought you here by force. In any public mention of this matter, you must state - if the question arises - that you came here voluntarily, in order to test your theories under conditions not available to you elsewhere in the world. It is a totally likely thing. Who would disbelieve you?"
"My government knows otherwise."
"Yes, but they will themselves urge you to tell the lie. They are as little eager as we are to plunge the world into a crisis over this. Aside from the fact that crises between the United States and the Soviet Union would instantly antagonize the rest of the world against both of us in these so-called good new days, the United States will no more wish to admit they had let you be taken than we would to admit we had taken you. Come, Albert, it is a small thing."
Morrison sighed. "If you return me now, as you say you will do, I will keep quiet about this small matter of kidnapping."
"You use the conditional. You say 'if.'" Boranova was grim. "You clearly find it troublesome to believe me to be a person of honor. Why? Because I am a Soviet. Two generations of peace, two generations of getting along, and your old habits persist. Is there to be no hope for humanity?"
"Good new days or not, we still don't like your system of government."
"Who gives you the right to judge us? We don't like yours, either. - But never mind. If we begin to quarrel, that will spoil what should be a happy day for you - and what is a happy day for me."
"Very well. We will not quarrel."
"Then let us say good-bye now, Albert, and someday we will meet again under more normal circumstances I am sure." She held out her hand to him and he took it. She went on, "I have asked Sophia to escort you back to the hotel and to make the arrangements for your leaving. You will not object to that, I'm sure."
Morrison pressed her hand strongly. "No. I rather like Sophia."
Boranova smiled. "I had sensed that somehow."
It was a happy day for Boranova and her exhaustion did not prevent her from enjoying it.
Exhaustion! How many days of rest, how many nights of sleep, how long a stretch at home with Nikolai and Aleksandr would it take to cure that?
But she was alone now and for a period of time there would be nothing to do. Seize the moment!
Boranova stretched out luxuriously on the couch in her office and gave herself over to a curious jumble of thought - now a commendation from Moscow, with a promotion, all mixed up with days on the beach at Crimea with her husband and son. It became almost real as she slept and dreamed that she was pursuing little Aleksandr as he marched firmly into the cold waters of the Black Sea in heedless lack of concern over the possibility of drowning himself. She was carrying a drum that she was beating wildly in order to attract the attention he stubbornly refused to give her.
And the vision broke apart and faded and the drumbeat was a hammering at the door.
She rose with a confused effort, smoothed the blouse she was wearing, and strode to the door in hasty concern. This turned to fury when she threw it open and found Konev frowning darkly, his fist raised to renew his assault.
"What is this, Yuri?" she said indignantly. "Is this your way of announcing yourself? There are signals."
"Which no one answered, though I knew you to be within."
Boranova motioned him in with a quick gesture of her head. She was not anxious to see him and he was not a pleasant sight.
She said, "Haven't you slept at all? You look awful."
"I haven't had time. I've been working."
"At what do you suppose, Natalya? At the data we obtained yesterday in the brain."
Boranova felt her anger seep away. After all, it was Konev whose dream this had been. The success of survival was sweet for everyone but Konev. Only he felt the failure.
She said, "Sit down, Yuri. Try to face it. The thought analysis didn't work - and it couldn't. Shapirov was too far gone. Even as we went in, he was on the point of death."
Konev looked at Boranova blankly, as though totally disregarding her words. "Where is Albert Morrison?"
"There's no use in hounding him, Yuri. He did what he could, but Shapirov's was a dying brain. - Listen to me. It was a dying brain."
Again that blank look. "What are you talking about, Natalya?"
"The data we got. The supposed data that you're struggling with. Let it go. The voyage has been a marvelous success even without it."
Konev shook his head. "A marvelous success without it? You don't know what you're saying. Where is Morrison?"
"He's gone, Yuri. It's finished. He's on his way back to the United States. As we promised."
Konev's eyes opened wide. "But that's impossible. He can't go. He mustn't go."
"Well, now," said Boranova calmly. "What are you talking about?"
Konev rose to his feet. "I went over the data, you stupid woman, and it's all plain. We must keep Morrison. At all costs, we must keep him."
Boranova's face reddened. "How dare you insult me, Yuri? Explain yourself at once or I will have you suspended from this project. What is this new mad fixation of yours on Albert?"
Konev lifted his hands halfway upward, as though impelled by an overwhelming desire to strike out at something, with nothing present to strike at.
He gasped, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry. I withdraw the adjective. But you must understand. All through our stay in the brain - all the time we were trying to tap Shapirov's thoughts - Albert Morrison was lying to us. He knew what was happening. He must have known and he carefully led us in the wrong direction. We must have him, Natalya, and we must have his device. We can never let him go."